Renee

Life After Stroke: stories of positivity, courage and determination

The Stroke Association always puts on a good event: inspiring and motivating for anyone touched by stroke. In his opening remarks, Chris Tarrant said that when he was invited to host last year’s Life After Stroke Awards, he expected the evening to be quite glum. On the contrary, the glitzy surround of The Dorchester Hotel’s grand ballroom is a perfect setting for celebrating the achievements of some awesome people affected by this cruel life-changing event.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | LinkedIn coaching ! LinkedIn training From the photos I posted on Facebook, it clearly looks like I’m a groupie for various familiar actors and actresses. Yet, however it looked, I wasn’t auditioning for a part in Coronation Street.  I think I offended Shobna Gulati when I tactlessly told her I was sad they’d killed her off in the fire; she said she was pretty upset about it too!!

Robert Bathurst, as you may already know – was absolutely charming, and recorded a video for Oli which I gleefully shared on social media. I saw him earlier this year being painted during the filming of Portrait Artist of the Year, blogging about it at the time. I thought he was really nice then, but I’m totally impressed with him now.  James Norton was cute (no sign of any murderous traits), Chris Tarrant seemed interested when we chatted at the bar, Sally Lindsay is just brilliant and Andy Bell was as sensational as he was back in the day.

But the evening wasn’t about all that.  It wasn’t about the fabulous food, the mesmerising ultraviolet stalactite table centres or the flowing champagne. It was about the people within the stroke community who keep going in the face of the worst kind of adversity. It was about the families and support networks, the carers, the volunteers, the fundraisers. It was about the professional teams who keep people alive, and with the best possible quality of life.  And, most of all, it was about the people who have survived a stroke, and embraced their new being with positivity, courage and determination.

We’re still battling to raise awareness of childhood stroke. One child a day is diagnosed in the UK, with many more strokes in children and babies being missed. Please keep spreading the word!!

My congratulations to all the well-deserved winners – and to the multitude of people who were nominated but didn’t make the final cut.  All are worthy of recognition. Huge thanks to The Stroke Association and their Patron, Baroness Karren Brady, for inviting me – and to Toni Mascolo of Toni & Guy (who cut my hair a couple of years ago!); as the evening’s headline sponsor, he made the night happen.

Andy Bell wrote this with Vince Clarke in 1988; seems appropriate now. “And if I should falter, would you open your arms out to me? We can make love, not war – and live at peace in our hearts… Oh baby please give a little respect to me.”

Everyone deserves respect, especially those who find it harder to make themselves understood. The Stroke Association’s current campaign is ‘Lost for Words’ and aims to raise awareness of the communication difficulties many stroke survivors suffer. If you’d like to help make a difference to people’s lives, please donate by texting STROKE AWARDS to 70500 to donate £5. Thank you.

 

Parisian knicker-checkers, a dramatic first night and a very impressive man

Paris in the springtime may be the traditional time to visit, but it’s a spectacular city anytime of the year.  My cousin Stephen had flown over from Vegas for a couple of weeks so we sneaked an overnight trip to the city of love, light, culture and delicious buttery, almondy, gooey chocolate pastries.

We weren’t surprised that security was high. However, the phrase ‘above and beyond’ came to mind.  We were stunned at the extent they went to checking our bags at the Arc de Triumph. The girl removed almost everything from each of our backpacks – including yesterday’s knickers and Stephen’s old pants. Everything was plonked into a plastic box for all to see. It was quite incredible really – nothing was spared.  Should people be allowed to wave our pants in their faces in the name of security?  My lacy knicks certainly didn’t have anywhere to smuggle even a penknife… (Also shocked at how many people were carrying those!)

Being an overnight stay, my bag contained a gas-fuelled curling brush that could understandably have been misidentified as a best-selling item from Ann Summers. Out it came; the mademoiselle picked it up and waved it around curiously as she scrutinised it before moving on to my make-up bag. But the thing that shocked us the most: she wasn’t wearing gloves. This girl was rummaging through people’s personal items with her bare hands. As Stephen pointed out, someone could have had a needle in their bag – or goodness knows what else. What a horrible breach of health and safety!

The Eiffel Tower was less vigilant – but still thorough – and plastic glove-wearing!  The Louvre gave a cursory flick of the zip and waved us through; Notre Dame and Sacré Coeur were more interested in Stephen removing his hat than in a full bag search.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | LinkedIn coaching ! LinkedIn training Our whirlwind tour took in all these tourist attractions, and more; I’m a very good tour guide, even if I do say so myself. I’ve managed to pick up enough trivia on my previous trips to marginally impress an American. While I was in charge of museums, galleries, cathedrals and high-in-the-sky landmarks, Stephen was responsible for food places – typical French cuisine, of course, with lots of melting cheese, cured ham, locally sourced paté and bread. Lots and lots of bread. (For him, not me. I was happy with a diet of chocolate croissants and chocolate mousse.)  And red wine, it’s healthy.

I returned from Paris to attend a first night play. And when I say first night, I really do mean that. The cast were delivering their first run-through, scripts in hand and without dramatic lighting or scenery.  It was the compelling story of journalist Christopher Gunness’ visit to Yangon to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the so-called Students’ Democratic Revolution. As a young journalist he’d reported on the 1988 events, and the story switched seamlessly between periods.

The company was made up of a small group of illustrious actors, with the writer and director, Guy Slater, a well-known celebrity in his own right. But the unobtrusive star of the evening was Chris Gunness himself, a man whose CV lists exceptionally high-profile roles within the UN and middle east – and now a chief spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. He is such a nice guy. Meeting him in the cultural ensconces of The Cockpit, a fringe theatre on the edge of Marylebone, you’d never guess for one second that he’s reported from war zones with bombs literally flying around him. He’s one of the unsung heroes, finally with his own tune and lyrics. (That’s metaphorical, by the way; Eastern Star is poles apart from any musical.)

The performance was a benefit event for the educational charity ‘Prospect Burma’ and the ‘Britain-Burma Society.’ Guy Slater spoke at the end, requesting funding to enable the play to gain traction in a wider theatrical sphere.  My fingers are crossed that they achieve their goals of both creating a fuller production and supporting the relevant charities.

As John and Paul reiterated way back when, words that were equally as relevant then, in 1988 and again today: “You say you want a revolution; well, you know, we all want to change the world. You tell me that it’s evolution; well, you know, we all want to change the world. But when you talk about destruction – don’t you know that you can count me out.”

Social media is certainly instrumental in changing the world. If you’re using it for business, make sure you’re using it right. If you need advice, give me a quick call, drop me an email or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

 

(Lyrics credit: Lennon and McCartney – but you knew that!)

Managing time, feeling creative and a stream of lucky escapes

There but for the grace of God go I. I don’t know who said it, and I’m not particularly religious, but I think it whenever my safety and well-being have been compromised but the danger’s passed.

I have a habit of narrowly missing disasters. (Or should I say, I have the good luck to narrowly avoid them?)

Kings Cross. The fire that was kindling as I rode through the station before the deadly flames engulfed the tragic victims. The Libyan Embassy siege. I walked passed just a couple of hours before PC Yvonne Fletcher was gunned down in broad daylight. I don’t remember now what I was even doing there, but I know I was wearing orange shoes. Pumps. Grosgrain – I’d bought them in Top Shop along with a matching jumper and some kind of weird fishnet scarf.  I was carrying one of those orange plastic basket bags that we all thought were marvellous back then.

There was no social media in those days, nowhere to tell people we were safe or let our loved ones know en masse that we were okay. All night tv was still in its infancy, only broadcasting for about a year in London – although we had that strange robotic teletext thing that was so futuristic. Whichever was you look at it, it was hard to keep up-to-date. There wasn’t even a facility for us to call friends we were worried about; we relied on them finding a public call box to ring home. It seems prehistoric now.  I didn’t even know about the fire until I got back around midnight and my mum was frantic with worry.

7/7 was a close call too. I’d overslept that morning. My mum phoned to tell me the central line was down and I realised I wouldn’t get to my appointment in Holborn on time. And then of course the catastrophic events unfolded on the news. I’d have been in the vicinity at the time of the bomb blast if my alarm had gone off. Again, there but for the grace of God go I.

21360829_10155724413861255_959159822_nAnd now this, a silver arrow shooting out in front of me. Well, not exactly in front of me – I didn’t actually see it. But I was hustled down two flights of stairs at the Oval into an enclosed room along with the other 450 people who were enjoying the networking event, most of us not paying attention to the cricket. Suddenly the sunny terrace, high above the famous pitch where we’d been happily sipping Pimms, was threatened by a security alert. No one knew what was happening. Everyone remained calm, everyone walked nicely, many people looked panic-stricken.  There were mumblings of terrorism. Surely a cricket match isn’t a good target? Or is it? Isn’t anywhere?

When the police evacuated the stadium I walked as quickly as my steadily blistering feet would carry me back to the relative safety of the tube. Rush hour on the Northern Line is quite unpleasant, but two people recognised me as having been at the event and we had a lovely chat, exchanging business cards between the legs of the commuters who weren’t lucky or quick enough to grab seats. I think they recognised me because of my dress, black with a vivid red rose print plonked across the fabric. It struck me that I looked a bit like a walking target, if the archer had taken to the streets with his weapon.

After the stress of that palaver I feel like I should avoid London for a while.  (Until tomorrow, at least!) I should stick to country events; for example, at the opposite end of the spectrum to the sweltering nightmare of the underground, last week’s ceramics fair at Hatfield House was a dream.

21360936_10155724409741255_412055550_nArt in Clay is one of the country’s foremost exhibitions of all things pottery.  Philip’s mum is a potter by trade – I have a lovely collection of vases, fruit bowls and sweetie dishes that she’s kindly gifted to me – so it was great to wander around with someone so knowledgeable and interested in the vast and eclectic collection of products on display. Philip bought a vase – tall, cream, elegant, beautifully curved with a grey squiggly bit at the bottom and a curlicue lip.  I have no idea if that’s a correct ceramicists’ term – I think I may have just made it up.  And if he skims through this blog he’ll probably be thinking I’m describing his ideal woman rather than a vase!

Watching the potters as they demonstrated throwing their clay made me feel (again!) that I want to do something creative.  Fortunately art class has resumed, in a new, Hitchcock-themed venue; still with fairy lights and bananas; still wonderfully calming and focused. Still great fun.  But I want to also do some painting, or even try some of that blobbing about with clay. (Again, probably not the right term…) I haven’t felt inspired to write poetry for a while, although I feel a wave coming on.

21361264_10155724413011255_595205071_nStaying on the pottery theme, I first saw this film in Bermuda in 1991 – and, although the lyrics date back to the year I was born, this song will be forever framed within the confines of white sandy beaches and a turquoise sea. “Time goes slowly by, and time can do so much.”

Time might go slowly by when you’re in love with Sam Wheat, but in business it goes blimmin’ fast.  So I’m offering time management workshops this autumn to set you up for an effectively-managed start to 2018. Call me if you’d like to know more, or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

Counting on social media, brain power and falling in love with Ned Stark

At my son’s insistence, I’ve started watching Game of Thrones.  Yes, I know I’m arriving late at this party but I’m here now, with mead bubbling and swords thrashing (or whatever it is they’re doing) – and with only 62 hours of TV watching to go to catch up with the rest of the global population. So far, it’s quite good, but I have yet to fall in love with the characters or understand the full storyline.  My reluctance to think it’s the most amazing thing ever is perhaps a problem with my brain. So…

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingI recently underwent three hours of mental testing in London to establish how effectively my brain is working. Interestingly, it’s better than I thought! This will be reassuring for my clients – and my family too, I guess. I popped up to town on Wednesday to go through the results, which showed a remarkable change in what I’d always believed were my ‘best subjects.’  English and humanities had always been my forte at school, college and university, while a distinct hatred of maths meant that I worked in Woolwich market on double maths days during my school years rather than endure the boredom of 90 minutes of numbers. (My mum reads this blog but it’s okay – she knows I bunked off school on maths and PE days – it was fine back then, no one went to prison for kids skipping school in the 80s.)

Anyway, while I scored in the top 5% of the population for language and cognition (luckily – considering my line of work!), I scored in the top 1% for maths and executive function. It made me laugh in disbelief.  I can add VAT in my head, but working out the nett cost of an item takes at least a scrap of paper and my purple pen. I can split a bill and add a tip, estimate arrival times based on maximum speeds (not that anyone needs that anymore; I couldn’t think of a better example), yet I have never considered myself a particularly numerate person. So to be told I’d ‘aced all the tests’ was pretty good for my self-esteem.

Now I’m thinking of ways to use this newly recognised skill. My best friend’s daughter studied pure maths at Cambridge and one of her first tasks was to cut a cake into equal proportions so that everyone thought they had the largest slice. Now that’s a job I could cope with!

I want to end this blog with lyrics about numbers as I’m apparently good at them now. So I’m sitting right here in a John Lewis café racking my brain because I once heard a song about different ways of measuring something – not sure exactly what but I think it might be love.  Whatever it is, it’s going to be more fitting than 2,4,6,8 Motorway, which is the only other ‘numbers’ song that springs to mind.

Fast forward five minutes… A quick query posted on Facebook has given me the answer!! Thanks to Paula, Sharon, Lyn, Mark, Elaine and everyone else who jumped up with suggestions – including my crazy cousin Stephen in Vegas who posted a pic of a chimp singing while wearing a hat – not one of these lovely custom-made ones though!

It’s from Rent, one of the few shows I haven’t seen. “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes: How do you measure – measure a year? In daylights – in sunsets; in midnights – in cups of coffee. In inches – in miles; in laughter – in strife… How about love? How about love? Measure in love! Seasons of love.”

I could add on to that: …In social media posts – in blogs; in LinkedIn connections – in boxes of chocs. In Instagram pics – in tweets; In followers, in cakes that are sweet. (Sing it to the same tune!!)

I could go on. (How long until I fall in love with Ned Stark from Game of Thrones then?) If you’d like to know more about how you can market your business in a year of social media activity, ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

 

Lyrics: Jonathan Larson, Universal Music Publishing Group.

Inspiration, cakes in Shoreditch and champagne with the man who woke me every day

Driving to the Park Plaza for Friday night’s Soldiering On Awards was a poignant experience.  Sadly, roadside floral tributes have become commonplace, but the crowds spilling out around Westminster Square were eerily quiet as they tiptoed over bouquets and read tribute cards while some, strangely, photographed them.

There was nothing quiet at the awards though! At the Park Plaza on the far side of Westminster Bridge cheering and clapping were the order of the day as over 500 people gathered to celebrate the Soldiering On Awards, recognising the achievements of men, women – and some incredible animals – who have been seriously injured in military service. These winners, in fact all the finalists that were gathered to be honoured there, have gone on to inspire others and create excellence from their tragedies.

C702WVNXwAABuVSIt’s unthinkable. Most of us are lucky enough to never suffer life-changing experiences and we simply can’t imagine what these people have been through, but there was nothing miserable or depressing in that room.  It was empowering.

My highlight of the evening was meeting Mike Read, the DJ whose captivating voice woke me every morning through college, my job in fashion and right up until I broke my clock radio. We spent half an hour chatting about this and that, he got me champagne, he said he couldn’t dance with me later as he hasn’t had dancing lessons – I told him I’m having swimming lessons, not that that was relevant.

17498727_10155169751331255_8419109128308697501_nAnyway, as far removed as most of us are (hopefully forever) from catastrophic injury, many of us do suffer from debilitating or unrelenting illnesses and that can be as difficult emotionally and physically as an unprovoked wound.  You may already know that I work with the Stroke Association to raise awareness of childhood stroke – a cruel and devastating trauma that can change the lives of a baby, child, teenager – and their families, often irrevocably.

I won’t harp on about that today – many of you have read my son Oli’s story, and it’s one that I’m eternally grateful turned out okay for him. I’m just mentioning it because, as I’m typing this, I’m also preparing for a meeting at the Stroke Association’s head office near Shoreditch. (Multitasking at its best – also eating chocolate and keeping one eye on Homeland.)

17555560_10155176863146255_8416856_nI’ll be going from there to visit clients in Hoxton (close to the hotel where my website was hacked!) to chat about Instagram and blogging. I’ve been promised hot chocolate and cake in a Hoxton café, so that will be nice! Although I have to admit I’m a bit caked out after last week’s Bake Off at my client and accountants in Woodford.  Nordens holds this competition annually for the team to bring in their delicious home-made creations – and guess who was a judge? Yes, me!! Well I do have rather a lot of experience eating cake.  Congratulations to Cydney who won with a lovely light lemon drizzle cake topped with mini Easter eggs.

17554955_10155176858516255_58716285_nWhich reminds me, my lovely friends at Kennards Artisan Chocolates (Desire4Food) created a huge Easter egg that was auctioned off at the Soldiering On Awards for a nice few hundred pounds.  (I don’t know the exact amount, but sadly I was outbid.) Massive thanks to them for their unswerving generosity and support.  They’re somewhere around Shoreditch today too, in a pop up shop – so I’ll pop up to visit them while I’m in town.  If you’re around there too check out their Facebook page and join me for a pre-Easter chocolatey treat!

Mike Read’s career has spanned over 40 years as a DJ, writer, journalist, TV presenter, songwriter and much, much more.  For my generation, there’s one song that we remember vividly as zooming to the top of the charts after he banned it from Radio 1’s playlist! (Coincidentally, Holly Johnson, who wrote it, bought a Swarovski diamanté brooch that Joan and I had selected for the Principles stores when I worked in fashion buying. I’d probably listened to Mike that very morning.) As Mr Johnson says, “Shoot it in the right direction, make making it your intention. Live those dreams, scheme those schemes; hit me, hit me, hit me with those laser beams.”

If you intend giving your business a quick blast in the right direction, feel free to call me for advice – or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

Incredible animals, a 19-course meal and fun on International Women’s Day

It’s two weeks to the Soldiering On Awards. This champagne-fuelled, glitzy evening will celebrate the best of inspirational people, charities and organisations within the military family. Someone decided that each finalist is worthy of public recognition and a shiny golden trophy, and the excitement to find out who has won is mounting.

Last week, two of my colleagues from the charity invited me to an amazing lunch – choosing the menu for the awards dinner! As you may already know from previous blogs (or from eating out with me) I have a healthy appetite.  But I have to admit that, on this occasion, the food actually beat me. We enjoyed the equivalent of 19 tasting courses – along with four glasses of wine!

That’s not a typo.  19 courses.  Six beautiful canapés, decorated with tiny pansies and the most delicate sprigs of herbs preceded a lunch of five hors d’oeuvres, five main courses and three desserts. Then petit fours and coffee.  (I had mint tea.) I posted a couple of pics on Facebook, and people commented of course, especially on the wonderful desserts. If you’re feeling jealous, don’t be! I felt totally ill afterwards 🙂

Then on Friday I was invited to a Women in Business event held by Newham Chamber of Commerce at the snazzy offices of Freshfields law firm in the city. This wonderful morning celebrated International Women’s Day (which was actually two days previous to that, but we’re worth celebrating every day, right?!) This year’s theme: Be Bold for Change.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingRather than eat the breakfast (which did look delicious but was too early for me; I had to get up at 5,30 to be there on time), I spent the first hour or so chatting with Anita Dobson. What a lovely lady! I’ve seen her act, obviously, and in real life she was a delight to spend time with. Both being eastenders, (you see what I did there?) we chatted about days gone by spent at the Ilford Palais, the perils of getting older, such as reading menus at arms’ length, and our shared love of cats.

 

This led on to a chat about animal charities, and I invited her to the Soldiering On Awards, as one category is for a remarkable animal that’s served in the military or worked as part of the military family. I hope she can make it.

Following the breakfast and networking, the morning was a panel discussion of eight super-interesting women hosted by newsreader Julie Etchingham. She’s an incredibly smart lady who flawlessly directed questions at the panel members for an hour.

While most people were impressed with me meeting celebrities, Gill was more excited that I’d also met the founder of her ‘Clubbercise’ class! Claire Burlison Green has built a global business from women exercising to disco music waving glow sticks in the air.  She brought a couple with her for demonstration purposes, but didn’t hand them out to the audience, sadly. It would have been fun on the underground at rush hour.

We didn’t have glow sticks back in the Ilford Palais days. All I remember now is the two of us in little blue corduroy dresses that barely covered our bums, a glass of water with ice and lemon, and a group that hopped on stage singing Let’s Dance when the DJ had his break. (I also remember not wearing coats as we preferred to save the 20p for the cloakroom – so walking home at 1am in the winter, freezing those exposed bottoms and discussing the geography homework we had to finish before going to bed…)

“Let’s sway, while colour lights up your face. Let’s sway – sway through the crowd to an empty space.” While Bowie was singing that – or the people in the 80s band were, we had no idea that 30 years later the crowds would have moved online and social media would fill all the empty spaces. Are you filling yours? I’m around this week if you need any help – here I am: @WeekendWitch.

Being too cute, poetry workshops and the perils of conference calling

I didn’t like Donny Osmond back in the day. His cutesy image irritated me, even before I knew the difference between cute and sexy. I didn’t particularly like his voice – or his songs and, anyway, I was a firm David Cassidy girl and you couldn’t be both! Gill, on the other hand, has loved him since she was about five, so when tickets went on sale for his London show I snapped them up.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingAnd now, I have to admit, this man is a legend in his own time.  Fifty years in show business and not a scuff mark on him. No one dishes the dirt because there is none to be dished.  He is a true showman and, it appears, a gentleman.  The concert was fab and I’ve finally exonerated myself after several doghouse years as a result of the ER fiasco. I won’t bore you with that story now, you may have already heard it, but Gillian will be nodding at this point. (Although the Toblerone issue is now pending…)

One thing that made me laugh this week was the story of a man (who shall remain nameless) who took part in a conference call while working from home. The call was dragging on, so he took his iPad into the loo (multi-tasking!) – quite forgetting that it was an open-mike call!! I’m laughing again as I’m typing.  Embarrassing!!

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingHuge thanks to everyone who come along to the opening night of Traditions, at the Pavilion Art Gallery in Mile End. It’s another fantastic exhibition curated by Katja of Art Catcher, and I met some incredibly talented and creative people. As a result, I’ve been asked if I’ll run a poetry workshop. I love that! It makes a nice change from social media workshops, although I love those too.

Poetry workshops give people space to explore their creativity away from the workplace, but without venturing too deeply into the artistic zone – ie: no mess. It allows you to dig deep into your soul, or simply express what’s on your mind in an inspired environment. I’m looking forward to that!

I don’t know the Osmond songs well, but I do like this one, and the final lyrics are so reminiscent of business days gone by that, in the context of my social media work it’s almost funny. “I’m just a little old-fashioned; it takes more than physical attraction. My initial reaction is, honey, give me love… Not a facsimile of.”

If you’re interested in exploring your inner depths through a poetry session (or business depths through the usual social media ones), give me a call on the number at the top of the page, or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.
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That song wasn’t actually written by The Osmonds, but by Jones Jr, David H / Brown Jr, Wade / Bristol, Johnny William

Resilience, optimism and decoding the enemy

During the war, Bletchley Park was the workplace of 10,000 people. Eagerly battling away 24 hours a day to decode enemy messages, these people worked under such a heavy blanket of secrecy that many of them were unaware of the overall strategy, focusing only on their own tiny, yet hugely important, part of it.

Communication took place via teams of bike riders scooting around the countryside, and carrier pigeons – some of whom received awards after the war for their bravery. The birds, I mean. Imagine how social media would have affected that war. We take our communication streams for granted today – phone, text, email, Facebook, messenger, Twitter, Viber, Whatsapp – to name just a handful of the most common channels we rely on to get our messages across quickly and accurately.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingIf you’re any sort of code-breaking lover (crosswords, Sudoku, the Mastermind game that we played as kids) you must visit Bletchley.  Its rich history and the vivid way its story is told make for a wonderful day out. In fact, I’m going back. We spent so long in the two cafés that we ran out of time to see the whole museum properly. (I’m standing on the stone where Churchill congratulated the Bletchley staff!)
 

 

Alan Turing was an incredibly talented man who suffered a tragic end. He is credited with skills that not only led to the war ending two years early, saving thousands of lives, but as being the father of the computer as we know it. He took artificial intelligence to a higher level than most of us can begin to comprehend, even today in our advanced technological society, decades before anyone could imagine the influence computing would have on our lives.

Coincidentally continuing the war theme, we watched a short documentary that evening about a wonderful pianist named Alice Herz-Sommer, the last survivor of the Holocaust. She died two years ago, aged 110 – and it’s been some while since someone has made me speechless with admiration. This lady was filmed at the age of 106, playing the piano and socialising with her friends. She had the most cheerful, life affirming demeanour and an amazing warmth. She bore no grudge against those who had devastated her family and placed her in the vile ‘town’ of Terezin, a concentration camp where her life was saved simply by her ability to play the piano in an orchestra created for the nazi’s entertainment.

The boys and I heard about Terezin during our recent tour of Prague’s Jewish Quarter, but our short trip left no time to visit the horrific site.  We saw the misery, despair and curtailed legacy in the Synagogue museums though. Alice Herz-Sommer lived an unthinkable life during the war years, yet her beautiful spirit, resilience and optimism could not be broken.  She’s quoted on Wikipedia as saying, “I look at the good… When you are pessimistic, your body behaves in an unnatural way. It is up to us whether we look at the good or the bad. When you are nice to others, they are nice to you. When you give, you receive.” It’s so true.

Sometime back in the 80s, long before we’d met, Philip was invited to photograph a breath-taking event.  Survivors of Terezin’s orchestra gathered at Canterbury Cathedral to be reunited for the first time since the concentration camp’s liberation. He says the atmosphere was electric, tangible – and never to be forgotten. Reports I’ve since read say the concert did not dwell on misery, oppression and death, but on hope, optimism and survival. Not a bad life plan, by anyone’s standards.

Rumours is my all-time favourite album, and this seemed like a positive end to a blog that details hope and personal endurance: “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, don’t stop, it’ll soon be here. It’ll be even better than before; yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.” Gone but not forgotten.

Idols, dating a roadie and less cheerful endings

I wasn’t planning to write about George Michael – we’ve all read so much about him since his tragic passing on Christmas Day that’s it’s reaching saturation point, especially on Facebook. But it’s true to say that he was a major influence in my formative years and, being the third of my late-teen musical heroes to be snatched away during 2016, I decided to jot this down (even if it’s only Gill and Martine who read it).

It made me so sad, but I smiled thinking about dancing to the Wham Rap 12″ in Gill’s bedroom. (Half my readers won’t know what that means!) We dressed like Shirley and Dee C Lee, with floaty rah-rah skirts and distressed leather boots. Dee’s sister went to my college – I think her name was Diane, and Dee came in to sing one afternoon. Not with George, unfortunately, but it was fun all the same.

My Twitter profile says, ‘Doing everything, regretting nothing,’ yet we always regretted that we hadn’t gone along to the filming of Wake me up before you go-go. We had the fluorescent tops and glowing beads, the big hair and the wide smiles… Gill even had an authentic Choose Life t-shirt. The fashion and Wham!’s music absolutely typified our late teens.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingI’ve used the phrase ‘soundtrack to my life’ many times, and this really was. Bowie, Prince and Wham! were constants on my fake Walkman, and featured on the regular playlist at the Ilford Palais – the salubrious nightclub where we spent most nights leading up to our GCEs meeting men called Ossie, Moike and Ben Down. It was a step up from the Brixton Academy at the time though, which may be why we didn’t venture down to south London for the now iconic video filming and a chance to meet George and Andrew,

We did go to quite a few concerts though.  I dated a roadie one year who got us tickets for consecutive nights. I didn’t particularly like him – I think his identical twin had the better personality, but the benefits were good… It was during that tour that we first saw George sing Careless Whisper.  He sat alone on the stage on a solitary stool, and I remember thinking that those beautiful lyrics might be my favourite ever.  As it’s turned out they’re not – but they’re probably somewhere in the top 20.

Band Aid played on the TV on Christmas Day while we were busy with the Silly Sausage that had looked so good when Kylie poked it on Jonathan Ross last week. I was pointing out to the boys how our 80s pop idols are, today, either timeless megastars or no longer with us. I pointed excitedly at George, with his floppy blond highlighted locks, unaware that he’d drifted into the second category as we pulled and twisted the silly plastic toy.

Then, of course, the obligatory Last Christmas came on.  They played a clip of it later, after the news broke, and it made me cry.

100million albums sold – that’s quite a number.  Prince achieved pretty much the same, and Bowie sold at least 140m, spanning a longer career.  I bought quite a few of all those.  And now, three of my five long-term favourites have gone in one year.  (Stay safe Meatloaf and Madonna!!) As Mr Panayiotou will still be saying long after our generation has stopped dancing, “Time can never mend the careless whispers of a good friend. To the heart and mind, ignorance is kind; there’s no comfort in the truth –  pain is all you’ll find.”

It’s been a far less cheerful ending to Christmas than usual, what with George passing, and various family members missing the holidays due to flu. But next week is a new year, and the start of wonderful things for everyone who believes that wonderful things can happen if you believe hard enough. Enjoy the rest of your Christmas week! I’m working today, then not… but you can still catch me here if you need anything social media-related: @WeekendWitch.

Lovely Lisbon, not crashing and memories of Cumulonimbus

I nearly died this week.  Well, that may be a slight exaggeration, but I had the worst plane journey I’ve experienced in all my years of flying. Which is probably 45, so a long time.  Many years, many flights, many nail-marks etched into the skin of my neighbouring passengers’ palms.

I’d been enjoying the beautiful view… what’s the word? Skyscape? The landscape of the white fluffy clouds, daydreaming about angels romping across – or something equally as daft and non-work orientated.  Gill and I both have fond memories (and by that I mean we laugh uncontrollably) when we think about Mrs Holland, our school geography teacher with bows in her hair who always looked like she was dressed as a toffee apple. But she must have taught us well, as we both still remember the principles of arable farming in East Anglia, the reasons Fords chose Dagenham as its main production site and this – cloud formations.

So I was somewhat dismayed when the pretty cumulus clouds turned into angry cumulonimbus ones, then I slammed the shutter in horror as they, in turn, vanished into a thick grey fog. Two aborted landings in Lisbon resulted in the plane whooshing up at a 30 degree angle, terrifying all the passengers before the pilot calmly announced that we were diverting 200 miles to a different airport before we ran out of fuel. Or something to that effect.  I’d switched off by then. My mind had gone into overdrive wondering who would post my clients’ blogs if the plane crashed.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywriting

 

Anyway, we arrived safe and sound, if not a little wobblier and a lot later than planned.  Lisbon is the most wonderful city!  I’d never fancied visiting as I had, for some unknown reason, a preconception of it being a boring commercial town. I couldn’t have been more wrong! It’s beautiful, cultured and full of history.

Its cobbled streets wind uphill from the Tagus in intricate patterns around the edges of town – ‘the old parts,’ rising through the steep hills toward ancient castles and the palaces of kings and presidents. While in the centre, a wonderful city rose from the devastation of a 1755 earthquake, with grand squares and gridded lanes full of quaint tea houses and gastronomic restaurants, the obligatory gift shops and a surprising number of very reasonably priced shoe shops.

I spent one evening in a traditional Portuguese Fado restaurant. It was someone’s home, a tiny, cosy setting for the mournful, passionate performance of the operatic-like singers and musicians.  It was great fun, although they dimmed the lights and I couldn’t see what I was eating! More fun was the electric tuk-tuk that took us back to our hotel one afternoon, shrieking with laughter as the little electric vehicle flew up the hills at 30mph and we clung on to each other for dear life.

In the space of four days we visited two palaces, a 1000 year old castle, the Basilica, the Time Out food market (twice!) the Tower, a sightseeing Victorian lift, the coach museum (less nerdy than it sounds), a wonderful gallery with an additional philanthropist’s private collection, the oldest café in Lisbon (1782), the most famous patisserie with its secret monastic recipe dating from 1837 and too many lovely restaurants to remember!  But the monastery was closed and I ran out of time to visit the Cathedral or ride the trams, so I need to go back…. (I hope Father Christmas is reading this.)

When I’m on a difficult plane ride the comforting words of Godley and Creme tend to spring to mind. ‘The world was spinning like a ball, and then it wasn’t there at all. And as my heart began to fall…’ That’s my favourite 10CC song, by the way – it hasn’t put me off flying.

And in answer to my earlier question, if my plane had nosedived into the cobbled streets or ancient woodland, Marion would have posted our clients’ blogs.  Anyway, all’s well that ends well and we’re free to spin like balls, if we like, knowing that there’s always someone to set us straight again when needed. We can help if your business needs to be set on a fresh, straight social media marketing path. Ask me here: @WeekendWitch. (Or fly me!)